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On the Trinity: Augustine, the American Revolution, and my Jehovah's Witness friend

I have a friend in a nursing home whom I visit regularly. Her name is Dinah and she is a widow. We met her through providence. A few years ago, her husband came to the house carrying both a friendly smile and Watchtower leaflets. He was a tall, thin and very elderly man. As we were just in the process of slaughtering our chickens, I did not have much time to speak with him. He was Dutch too, as it turned out, and told me that he was dying of cancer and therefore trying to witness to as many people as he could before he died. A heartbreaking confession! We visited his home, my husband and I, later that month before he and his wife moved into an old-age home where he subsequently died - died, as far as we know, still denying the Trinity. We have continued calling on his wife - on Dinah - and I have great conversations with her. That is to say, we get along fine on almost every subject except on that of the Trinity. The Trinity is a difficult concept. Yet, the Trinity and the Gospel are one and the same. God saves us by sending his Son and His Spirit. As Galatians 4:4-6 explains:

"But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'"

To know God savingly is to know Him as Father, as Son and as Holy Spirit. The Hymn to the Trinity There is a hymn known as "The Hymn to the Trinity." The earliest publication of this hymn was bound into the 6th edition of George Whitefield's 1757 Collection of Hymns for Public Worship. It is not known who wrote the words to this hymn but the melody was penned by Felice de Giardini. Because Giardini was Italian, this hymn is often referred to as “The Italian Hymn.”

Come, thou Almighty King, Help us thy name to sing, Help us to praise! Father all glorious, O'er all victorious! Come and reign over us, Ancient of days!

Jesus our Lord, arise, Scatter our enemies, And make them fall! Let thine Almighty aid, Our sure defence be made, Our souls on thee be stay'd; Lord hear our call!

Come, thou Incarnate Word, Gird on thy mighty sword - Our pray'r attend! Come! and thy people bless, And give thy word success, Spirit of holiness On us descend!

Come holy Comforter, Thy sacred witness bear, In this glad hour! Thou who Almighty art, Descend in ev'ry heart, And ne'er from us depart. Spirit of pow'r.

To the great one in three Eternal praises be Hence - evermore! His sov'reign Majesty May we in glory see, And to eternity Love and adore!

My friend Dinah could never sing this song. As a matter of fact, because she is such a devout Jehovah's Witness, my belief in the Trinity makes me something of a polytheist in her eyes. I continually pray that God will open her eyes to the truth, beauty, and necessity of believing in the concept of our Triune God because only He can do that through the Holy Spirit. Italian, British, and American The mentioned "Italian Hymn" first appeared anonymously in London, England around 1757. It was about this time that the singing of the anthem "God Save Our Gracious King" was also coming into fashion. The "Italian Hymn" could be sung to the tune of "God Save Our Gracious King." Perhaps that is why the author of the words of the "Italian Hymn" did not want to be known. The stanzas, you see, seemed to be somewhat of a defiant substitute for the words in the anthem which praised King George III of England. Things were brewing in the war department between the thirteen colonies and Britain and were leading up to the American Revolutionary War, (the war fought between Great Britain and the original 13 British colonies in North America from 1775 until 1783). The words to "God Save the King" were:

God save great George our king, God save our noble king, God save the king! Send him victorious Happy and glorious Long to reign over us God save the king!

The English anthem was often used as a rallying cry for the British troops. It aroused patriotism. There is a story associated with this. One Sunday during the war, as the British troops were occupying New York City, and very much appeared to have the upper hand, a group of soldiers went to a local church in Long Island. Known to the people as "lobsters" or "bloody backs" because of their red coats, these soldiers were not welcome. For the church members it would have felt akin to having Nazis sitting next to you in a pew during the Second World War in a city like Amsterdam. People were uncomfortable, glancing at the enemy who boldly smiled and flaunted their red coats as they sat in the benches. They obviously felt they had the upper hand. No one smiled back. Children leaned against their mothers, peering around at the soldiers. The tenseness was palpable. A British officer stood up at some point during that service, and demanded that all of the folks present sing "God Save the King" as a mark of loyalty to Britain. People looked down at the wooden floor, their mouths glued shut. One of the soldiers walked over to the organist and ordered him to play the melody so that the singing could begin. The organist, after hesitatingly running his fingers over the keyboard, started softly. The notes of the "Italian Hymn" stole across the aisles. But it was not "God save great George as king" that then burst forth out of the mouths of the colonists. No, it was "Come, Thou Almighty King," and the voices swelled up to the rafters of the church and it was with great fervor that the Triune God was praised. It's nice to reflect on a story like that – to perhaps ask ourselves if we would rather erupt into singing a patriotic hymn about the Trinity than to buckle under unlawful pressure. Still, the Trinity is a mystery. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deut. 29:29). Augustine on the Trinity Augustine of Hippo was fascinated by the doctrine of the Trinity. He pondered the mystery of the Trinity over and over in his head and wanted very much to be able to explain it logically. He even wrote a book on it. The book, entitled De Trinitate (which you can download here) represents an exercise in understanding what it means to say that God is at the same time Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Augustine had a desire to explain to critics of the Nicene Creed that the divinity and co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were Biblical. We often, like Augustine, want very much to explain God's tri-unity fully to people such as Dinah. We want to convince Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims of the truth and need for this doctrine. This, of course, we cannot do on our own, even though we should faithfully speak of the hope that is in us. There is a story, a legend, that one day Augustine was walking along the shore of the sea, and that as he was walking he was reflecting on God and His tri-unity. As he was plodding along in the sand, he was suddenly confronted with a little child. The child, a little girl, had a cup in her hand and was running back and forth between a hole she had made in the sand and the sea. She sprinted to the water, filled her cup and then dashed back to the hole and poured the water into it. Augustine was mystified and spoke to her: "Little child, what are you doing?" Smiling up at him, she replied, "I am trying to empty the sea into this hole." "How do you think," Augustine responded, "that you can empty the immense amount of water that is in the sea into that tiny hole which you have dug with that little cup?" She smiled at him again and answered back, "And how do you suppose you can comprehend the immensity of God with your small head?" And then the child was gone. Conclusion It is wonderful to ponder on the character of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism's definition of God is merely an enumeration of His attributes:

"God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth."

Indeed, the benediction from 2 Cor. 13:14, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all," is a benediction that should fill us with wonder and thankfulness.

Internet

Charles Spurgeon with some advice for the Internet age

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) died a century before Mankind mastered the ability to pass along unverified news stories and unfounded rumors at the speed of light. But while the medium is new, the sin of gossip isn’t, and Spurgeon’s warning remains as relevant as ever.

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What a pity that there’s no tax on words: what an income the government would get from it. And if lies paid double, we could pay off the National Debt! But, alas, talking pays no tax. Silence is golden Now if men only said what was true, what a peaceable world it would be. But we pass on hearsay. And hearsay is half lies – consider how a tale never loses in the retelling of it. As a snowball grows by rolling, so does the story. So those who talk much, lie much. While silence rarely causes mischief; too much talking can be a plague to the parish. Since silence is wisdom, it’s clear, then, that wise men and wise women are scarce. As they say, still waters are the deepest, but the shallowest brooks babble the most. An open mouth shows an empty head. It’s like a treasure chest – if it had gold or silver in it, it wouldn’t always be standing wide open. Talking comes naturally for us, but it takes a good deal of training to learn to be quiet; yet regard for truth should put a bit into every honest man's mouth and a bridle on every good woman's tongue. Be free of slander If we must talk, at least let us be free from slander. Spreading slander may be fun for some, but it is death to those they abuse. We can commit murder with the tongue as well as with the hand. The worst evil you can do a man is to injure his character. As the Quaker said to his dog, "I'll not beat thee, nor abuse thee, but I'll give thee an ill name." The world, for the most part, believes that where there is smoke there is fire, and what everybody says must be true. Let us be careful, then, that we do not hurt our neighbor in so tender a spot as to besmirch his character, for it is hard to get dirt off, once it is thrown. When a man finds himself put in people's bad books, he might never be able to get out of them. So, again, if we want to be sure not to speak wrongly, it might be just as well to speak as little as possible; for if all men's sins were divided into two bundles, half of them would be sins of the tongue. "And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body" (James 3:2). The solution So, gossips, give up the shameful trade of tale-spreading; don't be the devil's bellows, giving more air to the fire of strife. If you are going to talk, at least season your tongues with the salt of grace – praise God more, and blame neighbors less. Any goose can cackle, any fly can find a sore place, and any empty barrel can make a big noise. But the flies will not go down your throat if you keep your mouth shut, and no evil talk will come out either. So think much, but speak little; be quick at work and slow at talk; and, above all, ask the great Lord to set a watch over your lips.

This is an abridged, modernized, version of Chapter 6, "On Gossips" from Charles Spurgeon’s “The Ploughman Talks.”

Christian education - Sports, Gender roles

Daughters in sports

Women and men are different, so they should play differently

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I promised in a previous column that I would address the touchy subject of daughters playing in sports, and so I guess I can't get out of it now. It is all fine and good for sons to be subjected to the discipline and competition of sports, but what about our daughters? Is it healthy for them to be competing? Here is my decided take on it: it all depends. We are not raising our daughters to be "fighters" the same way we are with our sons. At the same time, self-discipline and godly determination are great qualities for women to have. Daughters can learn a lot from sports. They can benefit from learning to push themselves, to work hard, and to be part of a team. Besides, physical activity has benefits for everyone. Women can enjoy the thrill of the race or the game like anyone else. Still, we have to look at sports for our daughters a little differently than we do for our sons. Women shouldn't be men, and vice versa The goal we have in mind in raising sons is to inculcate masculinity. And we want our daughters to embrace a godly femininity, not a worldly feminism. So when parents consider sports for their daughters, they ought to be thinking about whether her participation will help develop or hinder her. Some sports are so completely masculine that young women shouldn't even think about participating. These certainly include football, boxing, baseball, and hockey. And it is just plain pitiful to see a woman force herself onto a male team just to cause a stink and force the boys to play with her. This is just a sad attempt for attention. Once when my son played football for a government high school (while he attended a local Christian school), the other team had a girl suited up and standing on the sidelines. My husband told my son, "If she gets out on the field, don't go near her, and don't tackle her. Just stand out of her way." Tackling is no way to treat a lady, even if she is refusing to act like one. But the next important thing to consider is what kind of program is available. For example, volleyball can be a great sport for girls. But if the program is bent on treating the girls like they are boys, and they are encouraging the girls to act like boys, then I wouldn’t want my daughters participating. But if the coaches are teaching girls to play well and to play like ladies, it can be a great experience. The same is true of basketball, softball, soccer, or track. If the girls are trying to act tough and masculine, it is deadly. But if they are enjoying the game and learning to work as a team, this can be working with the grain, teaching them to be feminine and beautiful as they handle the ball or hit it over the net. When our daughter played basketball for her Christian school, the team all wore blue ribbons in their hair as a feminine statement that they were not trying to act or look or play like boys. And they were good. They didn’t trash talk or play dirty. They were taught to play like Christian women. Positive character traits So if the sport itself is not masculine in nature, and if the program is deliberately striving to promote feminine virtue, then it can be a great blessing to young girls. But there are still pitfalls. Boys need to get hit and learn to take it, but girls need security and love. When insecure girls play sports, they are more susceptible to the temptations to try to become masculine. They may be looking for attention and affirmation from the sport when they really need it from their dads and their moms. They may “feel” unfeminine, so they gravitate to sports where they don’t have to be feminine. This means that wise parents will closely monitor their daughters while they participate in sports. And if they begin to show signs of becoming “macho” or unfeminine, they should consider pulling them out. I have seen the discipline of sports teach girls to be better stewards of their time, thus causing their studies to improve. Some exposure to sports can give our daughters confidence and make them “well-rounded” in their education. My daughter especially recommends volleyball for Christian girls because it is a team sport that can include lots of people, of all ages, and is a great activity for church picnics. And team sports are revealing when it comes to testing a daughter’s character. She has to think fast, look out for others, follow directions, and develop skill. This is all good, and none of this is contrary to a biblical femininity. Uniforms Of course I have to say something about uniforms and modesty. Christians ought to insist on dressing modestly. That means we shouldn’t be wearing tank tops with huge armholes and sports bras underneath. Neither should they be wearing what are called butt-huggers. It doesn’t matter if the other team is wearing skimpy outfits. Christians ought to refuse to participate in a sport where they will have to compromise in this area. A girls’ team can be dressed appropriately and modestly, even if it is no longer “cool” to do so. And this doesn’t mean wearing knee-length culottes,  (or any length culottes for that matter). Volleyball and track teams are now wearing virtual swimsuits as uniforms, and it just isn’t necessary. You can’t tell me that they really can play better or run faster in less clothing. It’s about making the slower women’s sports more interesting to watch. Male volleyball players don’t seem too hampered by actual shorts. Sports are not evil in themselves. But bad coaches can make for a miserable experience. If your daughter is in a sport, know the coaches, be at the games, and know how your daughter is doing. She certainly shouldn’t be forced into playing a sport if she isn’t inclined to do so. But if she wants to play, parents ought not hinder her for the wrong reasons. Questions for discussion Are there sports women shouldn’t play that men can play? Do you agree with the author's list of football, boxing, baseball, and hockey? Why or why not? What is the difference between "godly femininity" and "worldly feminism"? The author gives several examples of how women can be feminine in sports. What do you think of these examples? Can you think of other ways girls can be feminine while playing sports? What is the author’s main point? Do you agree? God has given men and women different roles, but are the genders' different roles something that has implications for the sports field? Do any of our Christian school sport programs encourage girls to act masculine? If so, how so, and what could be changed?

Reprinted with permission from Credenda/Agenda, Volume 16/1 published by Canon Press (www.canonpress.com).

Economics - Home Finances

Is gambling wrong? And if so, what about buying stocks?

Some Christians won’t invest in the stock market because they believe that investing in stocks is really no different than buying a lottery ticket. Both, they argue, are examples of gambling, which God forbids. But are they really so alike? Consider these two ways in which investing in stocks differs completely from gambling. 1. You can gain without causing pain While it could be argued that the Bible doesn't specifically forbid gambling, it does condemn the roots of it including covetousness (Ex. 20:17), love of money (1 Tim. 6:10, Hebr. 13:5, Matt. 6:24), and the lack of productivity (Matt. 25:14-30). Another significant problem with gambling is that a person can only win if others lose – there is no way for all the players to benefit. It is a zero-sum game, so for a gambler to walk away with more than he came with, he has to get it from the other players. God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), but the gambler wants to benefit at his neighbor's expense – he wants to get something while giving nothing. With stocks, it is very different. While the stock market has its ups and downs, over time the trajectory is ever upward, as the economy expands, and as we continue to learn how, through automation and other efficiencies, to become ever more productive. That means it is possible for all investors – or at least all of the patient, cautious sort – to win. An investor’s gains need not come by making others lose; instead their increase can come from helping a good company grow. An investor’s return can come from supporting companies that are creating good products, or offering wanted services, or who are in some other way being productive in a way that paying customers appreciate. And then the return he gets will be in exchange for the help he provided: it will be something for something. Of course, someone could buy stock in all sorts of evil companies too, so we’re not trying to say here that buying stocks is always good. The point is more limited: whereas a gambler can only gain by other’s pain, it’s possible for an investor to gain by helping others. 2. You are likely to gain Another problem with gambling is that it is a waste of the resources God has entrusted to us (Matt. 25:14-30) because in gambling the odds are always stacked against the gambler. Slot machines, provincial and state lotteries, 50/50 raffles, casinos: all of them are a source of revenue for governments because they are designed to pay out less than they take in. Sure, a fellow might makes some short-term gains, but any gambler that keeps at it is sure to lose…and quite possibly everything he has. But in the stock market, the very opposite is true. If the economy is growing (as it is, at least over the long term) then the stock market will grow too, and see more gains than losses. If you have no other ideas as to what to do with your money, then placing it in a diversified portfolio is one of the safest places to put it. With minimal risk you can increase the resources God has entrusted to your care. Conclusion To sum up, whereas a gambler is always trying to win at others’ expense, stock market investors can gain by helping others do better too. And while the odds are stacked such that over time a gambler will lose all he has, stock market investments overall continue to grow over time. In these two significant ways, buying stocks is the very opposite of gambling.

Human Rights, Pro-life - Abortion

ABILITY ≠ WORTH ….but the world thinks so, and sometimes we do too

While we were at the library one of my daughters grabbed Nice Wheels, a book featuring a boy zipping across the cover in a wheelchair. I thought it was a great choice; my children don’t know anyone in a wheelchair so this seemed like it would a good way to teach them that whether we’re standing or sitting, we’re all people.

But that wasn’t the moral of this story. The author wanted to teach my daughters that our value comes from what we can do.

The book begins with a wheelchair-bound boy rolling into class and a second boy wanting to know, “Can he do what we can do?” By day’s end we’ve learned that the boy in the wheelchair can sing just like everyone else, and can paint, and listen, and laugh, and eat lunch, and share like everyone else too. And as the book draws to a close the second boy decides that, shucks, if this boy in his wheelchair can do everything we can do, why not be his friend?

While the author’s heart was in the right place, her thinking couldn’t be more wrong. If we’re worth befriending because we can do things, what if we can’t do things? If our value is tied to what we can do, then what of a boy who can’t sing, or paint, or eat lunch with the other kids?

Comedy and tragedy

The world believes that our worth is tied to our ability. That’s why we have feminists arguing that women can do anything men can do, even including all that brawny stuff. No matter that men have way more muscle, feminists won’t admit men make better firefighters, soldiers or alligator wrestlers. They can’t concede that men can do more in these areas because in their worldview that means men are more valuable than women.

Feminist confusion is comical, but equating ability with worth can also be deadly. It’s this same thinking behind abortion: we can kill the unborn at 10 weeks because they can’t do this yet, or at 20 weeks because they can’t do that yet. It’s also the impetus behind legalized euthanasia: if a strong healthy young man wants to commit suicide we’ll try to stop him, but if an old man requests euthanasia because his physical and mental abilities are diminishing, well, that’s supposed to be understandable.

Dripping in the church

In our churches we oppose abortion and euthanasia. We know our lives our valuable even when we can’t do anything at all. We know it, but daily we manage to forget it. We tie our sense of worth to how much we make, or have donated, or to the position we hold. Or we base it on how well our kids behave, how many books we’ve read, how many invitations we do or don’t get, or how many Facebook likes we’ve collected. We know better, but we still fall for the lie that our worth is somehow tied into what we can accomplish or earn or achieve.

There can be something appealing about this lie in the short-term, particularly just after we’ve lost 20 pounds, or scored a game-winning goal. But in the long term it all fades; relying on our own strength is a dead-end.

Unearned

What a blessing it is to know, then, that our value doesn’t come from our abilities. Ours is a derived worth that comes from the God in whose image we are made (Gen. 1:27, 5:1 9:6, Psalm 8:5-6). Our status also comes from God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31). But it doesn’t come from what we can do. We’re valuable because of how God made us, and because of what God commanded.

So it’s all gift.

Understanding that frees us from the impossible burden of trying to earn it. When we know for a fact that nothing we can give could ever be good enough for God that frees us from worrying whether or not it will be. It frees us to simply respond in thankfulness, giving freely of ourselves and our gifts without being self-conscience about how little it is we have to offer.

And understanding where our worth comes from should stop us from expecting others to earn their status. The newcomer to our church shouldn’t have to smile first before we welcome them. The lonely girl shouldn’t have to accept one of our first ten invitations before we offer her an eleventh. The awkward guy shouldn’t have to play hockey to be a part of our group. And that kid in the wheelchair doesn’t have to show he can do everything that the other boys can do before he’s worth befriending.

They shouldn’t have to earn it. They can’t earn it. We can’t earn it.

It’s all a gift from God.


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